Tehran: In an apparent change of heart, Iran said on Tuesday it now welcomes foreign aid for victims of the deadly twin earthquakes that hit the country`s northwest last weekend.
The remarks indicate authorities were still struggling to cope with the quakes` aftermath amid growing criticism that they failed to react timely and help the region along the borders with Azerbaijan and Armenia, where the 6.4 and 6.3 magnitude quakes Saturday killed 306 and injured more than 3,000 people.
Iran`s government said it has provided shelter for about 50,000 people who lost their homes during the quakes, which have been followed by scores of aftershocks.
The quakes hit the towns of Ahar, Haris and Varzaqan in the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan. At least 12 villages were totally levelled, and 425 others sustained damage ranging from 50 to 80 per cent, state TV and news agencies reported.
The stricken region has a population of about 300,000.
Many roads and other infrastructure were heavily damaged.
State TV showed relief workers distributing tents and helping survivors, mainly in rural areas. Authorities said the quake caused some USD 600 million in damages and in Tehran and other major cities, people stood in long lines to donate blood for the injured.
For two days after the quakes, Tehran insisted it needed no foreign assistance to handle the situation.
Iran`s Red Crescent yesterday sent back a rescue team from Turkey that arrived without advance coordination. The head of Red Crescent Society of in the quake-struck province also said international aid was not needed.
Spokesman Pouya Hajian told the semiofficial ISNA news agency that the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, UNICEF, Turkey, Taiwan, Singapore, Germany and many embassies in Tehran had offered help but that the Iranian Red Crescent was able to support the quake-stricken areas.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday that the US has not had "any pickup" from Iran on Washington`s offer of assistance, and noted Iranian public statements that it did not need outside aid. "Nonetheless, our offer stands on the table," she told a news conference.
Nuland said despite US economic sanctions on Iran, Americans wishing to provide food and medicine to victims of the disaster could do so without obtaining a special license, and certain noncommercial financial transactions were also possible.